This is a partial transcript from The Beltway Boys, November 8, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.
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FRED BARNES, CO-HOST: Our guest tonight, and the latest installment in our rising congressional series, is Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. He's a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Joint Economic Committee.
Thank you for joining us tonight, congressman.
REP. PAUL RYAN,R-Wis.: Thanks, Fred, good to be with you.
BARNES: My first question is simply this, will we get a Medicare (search) bill this year that has a prescription drug benefit for seniors?
RYAN: I do not know the answer to that question at this time. Every day it changes. I would say the odds are we will. What that final bill will look like, though, is unclear to me right now. And every day it seems to change a little bit.
But we are getting down to the finish line on this bill.
MORT KONDRACKE, CO-HOST: Well, now, there are doubts about the Medicare bill, there are doubts about the energy bill. If those bills don't pass with Republicans running the White House, Republicans running both houses of Congress, who's to blame here?
RYAN: Well, I think the people are going to blame Republicans. I think that's the truth. The problem that we have, though, is, the Senate is so close that you have absolutely no room for air in the Senate.
And so we want to pass good bills. We don't want to just pass bad bills that have the label Medicare reform on it or energy policy. We want to pass good bills that actually live up to the rhetoric that we talk about with these things, that when you have such a razor-thin majority in the Senate, that gets really difficult. And that's why we're down to the wire here.
KONDRACKE: Now, you voted for an item that's in the Medicare bill which surprises me, since you're a conservative, and that is the reimportation of drugs from Canada and 25 other countries.
Now, why I'm wondering about your conservatism is, you're importing price controls from other countries, and frankly, retarding medical research, because you're holding down the profits of pharmaceutical companies.
RYAN: I voted for this because I am a conservative, because we have protectionist barriers that prohibit the American consumer from buying their drugs, made in FDA-approved facilities that are FDA-approved drugs, on the world market. We can do that in so many other products, but we have these protectionist barriers that give the drug industry a captive U.S. market, whereby our consumers are the ones who are footing the bill for all of the research and development and the lower prices in the rest of the world.
We just simply want to have consumers have access to other markets. That's why I voted for reimportation.
BARNES: Congressman, you were elected in 1998 at a relatively young age, and I know you fought vigorously to get on the House Ways and Means Committee. One, why did you want to be on that committee? And two, what is your agenda for being in Congress?
RYAN: Well, the big issues that I care so deeply about are the issues that are the Ways and Means Committee are in charge of. Entitlement reform and tax reform.
There are three things that I got on the Ways and Means Committee to do, but basically there are three reasons I came to Congress. Reform our tax code, reform our health care system, and that really includes Medicare, and reform Social Security.
The baby boomers are coming. And when we have 77 million retirees in this country, compared to the 40 million we have today, it's putting an unsustainable pressure on our entitlements. And if we don't reform these programs, which we can reform them, and we can actually make them better, if we don't do it the right way, we're going to be faced with huge payroll taxes in this country to the tune of about 25 percent.
That is basically putting us on the road for European-style socialism, which I am a free enterprise, limited government conservative. Those are things that we can avoid. But the only way we're going to avoid those things, if we actually do the work to do that. Because we are really on the path for those kinds of reforms. We're on the path for having huge FICA taxes and entitlement problem.
And if we don't fix those things, you know, that's the problem, that's why I came to Congress.
BARNES: Well, I've heard President Bush talk about tax reform and Medicare reform, but I haven't...the word Social Security reform cross his lips in a while. Is he going to be pushing that?
RYAN: He is. I mean, I'm on the Social Security Subcommittee in Ways and Means. I'm working on a plan myself right now to get Social Security reform. I think, however, unfortunately, this is probably going to be a 2005 issue, not a 2004 issue.
When you got so many guys running for president in the Senate, like we do, it's going to be really tough to pass bills out of the Senate next year, let alone something as controversial and important as Social Security.
So I do believe that the White House is gearing up for, number one, winning the election, but number two, doing Social Security reform right afterwards, and hopefully tax reform as well.
KONDRACKE: Congressman, yes, on the Medicare bill, and energy, for that matter, too, the one, the big stumbling block seems to be that your chairman, Bill Thomas, the Ways and Means Committee, and the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Republican Chuck Grassley, can't get along. Now, they're both adults. What is Thomas's problem with Grassley?
RYAN: Or what is Grassley's problem with Thomas?
KONDRACKE: Yes, that's a good question.
RYAN: Yes. Some of these stories are overblown. Some of these articles you read the next day about blowups that occurred actually never occurred.
But there is some friction. Number one, these are two men who have been working their whole careers here. They're finally chairing these committees. And they have their way of doing things. And those ideas don't always collide or interact well with each other.
Ethanol is an issue that was the real source of controversy in the energy bill. Bill Thomas (search) has more or less agreed to, you know, Grassley's position on that. The vice president brokered that deal. I think that's pretty much a done deal now.
Medicare, it is yet to remain to be seen exactly what's going to happen with that. Most Republicans are on the side of reforming Medicare so that we can save this...program for the baby boomers. That's the side that Bill Thomas is on. Where Chuck Grassley (search) is on that point, many of us just do not know.
KONDRACKE: Well, you know, the missing ingredient here would seem to be presidential leadership. Why doesn't the president craft his own solution, or at least get those guys down there and knock their heads together, keep them in a room until they get some Medicare bill that he likes?
RYAN: It's a good question. I don't have an answer for you on that one.
KONDRACKE: OK, congressman, that's a very short answer. Thank you.
RYAN: Thank you.
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